On his team, Libbey senior guard Jamaal Mays is the leader on the floor and in the scoring column at 19.1 points per game.
In his household, however, the All-City League standout ranks No. 2.
The top spot is reserved for his “little” sister, freshman point guard Tenisha “Mattie” Mays, who tops the Libbey girls squad with her 20.5 average.
“Big” brother Jamaal, or “Maalmaal” as he is known to friends and family, also falls in behind Tenisha in the yardstick category - at age 15 she is 5-10 to his 5-9.
Jamaal Mays - who celebrated his 19th birthday last Friday night with a 23-point performance in a 72-70 City league win over rival Scott - has no problem taking a statistical back seat to his basketball sibling.
Unless, of course, you have the audacity to suggest that Tenisha's talents might actually exceed his own, something Cowboy boys coach Leroy Bates did in jest recently.
“Yes, she's taller than he is,” Bates said, “and she's a better outside shooter too.”
“He had to be joking,” Jamaal shot back with mock disdain when told of his coach's assessment. “If she had a better shot I think he would've put her on the (boys) varsity.”
As for the height issue, Jamaal also stands his ground: “I quit growing but my game just kept getting stronger.”
With nicknames the norm in the Mays family, it is only fitting that Tenisha selected one for her most constant companion. Her worn out, orange-and-white striped basketball has been dubbed “Swoopes” after her role model, former college player of the year and WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes.
“Wherever I go, I always take Swoopes along with me,” she said.
In a nutshell, this relationship defines Tenisha Mays, who admits, “I don't know what I'd do without basketball.”
“That ball right there, that's her life,” said Libbey girls coach Sheronda Boyd, who played on a CL championship team with DeVilbiss in 1984. Boyd calls Tenisha Mays's simplistic attitude and love of the game “refreshing.”
Although Tenisha hasn't jumped into any games with her brother and the guys down at City Park, she does take to that court frequently to hone her skills, which, like her brother's, include solid ball-handling ability and a sharp eye from beyond the 3-point arc.
“She was a tomboy when she was younger,” Jamaal said. “She always liked the game and just kept playing and getting better. I knew (before high school) she had the game and the talent. She can do everything I can do, and I'm a senior and she's only a freshman. She won't do nothing but get better.”
“She's good enough to show up on the playground with us. I'd love for her to come out and play. That won't do nothing but toughen her up.”
Tenisha was introduced to organized ball in third grade when her mother, Terri Mays, who played at the former Macomber-Whitney High School, coached a team at the Frederick Douglas Center.
Through the years Jamaal has offered a few tips, and cousin Dante Mays, a former guard at Libbey, has worked with her on shooting and dribbling. The net result is the top young girls basketball talent in the City League.
“She's tough. We couldn't contain her,” said Central Catholic girls coach Steve Pfahler, whose team has won 50 straight league games but yielded 22 points to Mays.
“She has some serious skills at this level,” Boyd said. “I haven't seen a 15-year-old with this many skills in a long time, and I don't think she really knows what she has. Mattie thinks shooting a 3 is just like shooting a layup.
“I'm excited to be around her. She has so much potential, and she does all of the things in the off-season to get better. (Colleges) are already looking at her.”
Tenisha's high-point game has been 28, accomplished twice. She also averages 4.1 assists, seven rebounds and three steals per game for the 1-8 Cowboys, who have lost all five CL games.
She credits her brother with showing her the ropes about playing point guard.
“He tells me what I'm doing wrong and I work on it. I'm happy he's my brother.”
Tenisha was thrilled last season to attend all 26 of Jamaal's games as top-ranked Libbey posted a 25-1 record, won the CL championship and reached the Division I state semifinals. Jamaal also follows her progress and admits to being a vocal fan. He has missed just one game so far, and vows not to miss another.
“She's the total package,” Jamaal said. “A 5-10 female freshman point guard. I'm proud of her.”
Meanwhile, on the back burner, Jamaal has helped keep Libbey at the forefront of the CL boys race. With senior guard Jonathan March (16.5 points per game), he is one of two returning starters from last season, and Libbey has won 10 straight games since a season-opening 57-56 upset loss at Sandusky. Helping the mix is senior transfer Danny Williams (17.5 points a game), and the steady play of senior guard Robert Allison.
“My role this year is to be the leader,” Jamaal said. “I need to make big plays and big shots and score more. (If) I don't have the desire to do that, I shouldn't be out here.”
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